About this time last year I read a book by Simen Sinek, which has had a surprising impact on how I preach, teach and communicate ideas – even to a small group. The book is ‘Start with Why’. And in it he argues that instead of starting which What you do or How you do it you need to start with why. This sells people the vision, it keeps them motivated. Sinek argues that most people know what they do and how they do it. But few can express why they do what they do – and yet this is the most important. So why should I, why should we, study Systematic Theology.
Grudem address some of the arguments people have against studying systematic theology and then gives responses.
- “Since the conclusions are too neat and tidy they can’t be true”
- “It is pointless, since whatever subject is chosen to be studied will determine the answers found.” (E.g. if you chose to study God’s sovereignty you’ll find arguments for Calvinism, but if you choose to study freewill you’ll be led towards Arminianism (a real word?)
Grudem gives good responses to these arguments. However these aren’t objections I have heard before, and ones I wouldn’t be tempted to make myself. For me the most compelling objection to studying systematic theology comes down to the fact that it should just be enough to read the Bible. I love the Bible, and I believe in it we have everything we need to learn to live a life of Godliness. So why should I study Systematic Theology?
I’ve been told to read books before, which summarise the Bible – and always had an inner frustration that we weren’t encouraged to simply read through the Bible itself. As someone who reads through the Bible regularly – what can systematic theology do for me?
Well, Grudem makes clear that the purpose of S.T. isn’t to improve upon the Bible and give us special knowledge. But instead to help us understand the Bible’s voice on a variety of topics, to summarise and synthesise the whole of the Bible on any given topic, without reading it through from beginning to end every time we need an answer on a topic.
Furthermore it can help us carry out the Great Commission – Matthew 28:19-20. Of which, part of the commission is to ‘teach them to obey everything [He has] commanded us’. As someone who has been involved with teaching, and married to a teacher, I know the value of having an overview of a topic before introducing a fragment of it. By studying S.T. we can have overviews on Jesus’ teaching/commands through the whole Scripture (which we believe is all God-breathed, Spirit-inspired)!
The task of fulfilling the Great Commission includes therefore not only evangelism but also teaching
To teach others – is the “Basic Reason” Grudem gives. Hence this blog and my desire to share with other Christians. May this knowledge also change the way I live that others see Jesus all the more.
The Benefit to our Lives – This is the 2nd reason given. By studying S.T.:
- We can overcome wrong ideas (either innocent/naive or stubborn/rebellious). Grudem remarks that when we stubbornly disagree with a biblical idea, it can be helpful to feel the ‘Total weight of Scripture on an issue’.
- Make better decisions, not just in life, but when it comes to future/unexpected disagreements with theology. Knowing what the Bible says on major doctrines, can clarify trip hazards in minor doctrines.
- Help us grow as Christians – as noted in Scripture Godliness is often connected to Doctrine (1 Tim 1.10, 6.3)
- Unity in the Church. This for me is so so important! I’ve come across this distinction before in my reading – between major and minor doctrines. Too often the Church divides over differences in minor doctrines, when it’s the major ones that are really important. What’s the difference?
He describes a Major Doctrine as one that has a big impact on how we view other doctrines (e.g. Authority of the Bible, Deity of Jesus, Justification by Faith etc.) whereas a Minor Doctrine has little impact on other doctrines (forms of Church government, timing of the Tribulation, food laws). Grudem explains that the concept of Major/Minor is more helpfully viewed as a spectrum rather than either/or. Aka: Some doctrines are more major than others. By being able to distinguish between the two, needless divisions and walkaway arguments need to happen.
I hope this is all followable!
So how should I study this?
- With Prayer: we need the Power of the Holy Spirit, not just to learn this but to apply it. Therefore let us approach this prayerfully and maintaining our devotional lives and love for God.
- With Humility: rightly is mentioned how knowledge often leads to pride – which puffs us up and isn’t useful without love (1 Cor 8:1, 13:1-3). There is a challenging quote on page 33, I’ll type out since pride is a big temptation for me personally – this is a good reminder:
…it would be very easy to adopt an attitude of pride or superiority towards others who have not made such a study. But how ugly it would be if anyone were to use this knowledge of God’s Word simply to win arguments or to put down a fellow Christian in conversation, or to make another believer feel insignificant in the Lord’s work…
- With Reason: Grudem argues that we should use our logic to draw deductions from Scripture, however we need to recognise that even though God has given us brilliant minds and abilities our deductions/reasoning are not level with Scripture and must be submitted to Scripture. By that he means that whenever we have reached a conclusion that is contradictory to Scripture, our idea is wrong.
- With the help of others: be that books, peers, other Christians, by talking about what we’re learning. We are meant to grow and learn together – as Iron sharpens Iron.
- With rejoicing and praise: What God reveals to us through the Bible should result in awe, and praise and worship. I think the moment this slips, we are very much in danger of idolising ourselves/our minds. Our study – should result in God’s glory as we learn more about Him.
I want to make a third shorter post on this Chapter about the application questions, memory verse and what stood out to me this chapter. But then we’re starting PART 1!!! The Doctrine of the Word of God!!!!
Slow and steady wins the race, right?